Friday, February 27, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good Bye / Au Revior / Sianora, Sallie Mae!!!!

When I was at GracePoint church, a lady got involved named Sally May. I wanted to run and hide from her because I owed her money. Not anymore, we have finally kicked Sallie Mae out of our house! In so doing, we've complete step #2 of Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps.
But because I'm a hoarder by nature and we were saving for IVF and the adoption (neither of which ended up costing us much) we have also have 3 months worth of expenses in savings, putting us at the low end of completing baby step #3.

We're now contacting our Northwestern Mutual rep to work on baby step #4. But rather than investing 15% of your income into an IRA as Dave recommends, we're going to do 10%. We'll be following the 10/10/80 principle. Give 10% / Save 10% / Live on 80%.

Based upon Erin's current salary, we'll be able to move onto baby steps 5 and 6 fairly quickly, too. But that could change this fall when Erin hopefully starts working part-time.

One difference for us from the Dave Ramsey plan is that we continued investing into our Roth IRA during the debt snowball. I know he always says emotions and intensity trump interest rates, but it was hard to justify putting less in the stock market (which historically earns 10% rate of return) to pay off a student loan with only 3.2% interest. But looking back at this past year, maybe I should've followed his advice...

A young lady whom we'll always, always love

We first met Brianna on an October Wednesday evening at the Chili's on 151st St. At the time of our dinner together, Erin and I were convinced we weren't ready to adopt. But I have to admit, we fell in love with Brianna that night and I kept thinking over and over, "I'd love to adopt this girl's baby, what if..." As this blog entry explains, we spent a month praying and God responded by drastically changing our life's direction. Toward the end of our month of praying for direction, Brianna began to look at the profiles of other adoptive families (we'd told her to continue searching since we weren't yet sure) but kept praying that we'd become her baby's adoptive parents. It was great to hear her huge sigh of relief when we called to tell her our decision.

Erin and I came to love Brianna even more over the next few months. It was amazing to watch Brianna come to see her pregnancy not as a mistake but as an amazing gift. You can read a bit of what she wrote on that here. I can't imagine anyone ever doing a braver or more selfless thing than Brianna's choice to place her baby into an adoptive family. It was, and still is, an incredibly difficult decision but throughout the entire process, even while experiencing labor pains, Brianna continued to reassure us of her commitment to follow through with her decision. We'd heard so many horror stories about failed adoptions that we were hesitant about opening our heart to Brianna and her baby, but she eventually earned our trust, allowing us to open our hearts.

Although she is honest is saying it still hurts, Brianna continues to tell us over and over that she's happy that she made the right decision. During the difficult emotions of the last few hours before Brianna signed the papers, making Dawson legally our son, her mom said, "If it was anyone other than Donnie and Erin, I don't think we could go through with this." That might be one of the greatest compliments we'll ever receive.

I spent the last two months worrying about the pain and awkwardness of the time between Dawson's birth and us taking him home from the hospital. While it was certainly difficult and we all shed a lot of tears, the strength of the relationship between us and Brianna made the transition smoother than I could've imagined. This is an open adoption, so Brianna will continue to have some sort of contact with Dawson throughout his life. We're not sure what that will look like in the future but we're going to do our best in maintaining healthy lines of communication. .

In the picture of all 4 of us, I'm holding the gift we gave Brianna; a Willow Tree sculpture of a pregnant woman. I bought that same sculpture around Valentine's Day in 2006, planning to give it to Erin whenever we found out she was pregnant. Of course, that never happened. When I was diagnosed with infertility in the summer of 2007, I gave Erin the sculpture anyway, telling her it signified the beginning of a new journey toward parenthood, that we were "expecting" in one way or another. Since Brianna's gift became the end result of that journey, we bought her that gift. Yes, it was hard for me to get out that entire story when giving her the sculpture.

For some more pictures of this amazing young lady, check out this facebook album.

No Stupid Tax

Well, after making this long post about how I was going to refinance my house, we decided not to do it. Even though we're paying the stupid tax of interest in doing a 30 year mortgage rather than a 20, we decided not to pay stupid tax of the closing costs and new interest payments.

Joe Kumor's comment about not raising your payment when you're about to have a kid also influenced our decision.

So, we're going to (sometime soon, anyway when we get a baby budget figured out) simply add the extra amount that the new refi-ed payment would've been to our current payment. If we follow that plan, we'll still pay off our house in 15 years from now. How awesome would it be to have a paid-for house about the time Dawson is in High School?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Some more thoughts on the changing church

Following the post below, here's a quote from a great article by Reggie McNeal in Rev! Magazine. The article is entitled "Catching the Missional Wave" and it discusses the changes from being attractional to being missional.

"Going missional will carry you beyond a church-centric worldview into a kingdom orientation. Rather than looking at the kingdom through church lenses, you'll see the church through kingdom lenses. This shift of perspectives wil lead you to make significant changes in your ministry agenda and how you prosecute it. Your scorecard will expand beyond the attractional church measures tied to the successes of church program participation. You'll become increasingly concerned about your impact beyond church real estate and programming. Rather than building great churches, you'll concentrate on creating a culture that fosters great people (these are radically different approaches). These missional followers of Jesus then serve as the church deployed across all domains of culture. Clergy, rather than mere managers of spiritual vending enterprises for consumers, become leaders of a movement that plays out in every sector of society.

Here are some more thoughts from McNeal - link.

Something I've been sensing for awhile...

There is a change happening in the way churches "do church." The book I just finished, Intuitive Leadership addressed this change. Greg Boyd, one of my "heroes" wrote the below article that further reinforces what I've been sensing for a couple of years.

Greg Boyd recently did an interview with Burnside Writer’s Collective, in which he was specifically interviewed by Scott Noble. It is a short interview in which Greg is only asked three questions. But the questions that he was asked, are important questions that we should be asking. You can read the interview in its entirety here. Here is Greg’s response to the third question -
Do you think the mega-church model of pastor as CEO is going by the wayside?:
“I suspect so. I think we’re going to have apostles and prophets and evangelists and teachers and pastors. The churches that have that [the pastor as CEO model] are usually because you have a superstar, with a great personality and a great gift and who can build a superstar team. But there are a lot of drawbacks to that model.
We’re wrestling with that here at Woodland Hills Church. It’s really based on a consumer, CEO model. And so you want to attract as many people. The trouble with the attractional model is that you set up a paradigm where people think the job of a person is to attract, instead of the job of Christians being a mission. When a better model comes along, then the consumers go over there. It really kind of creates a shallow sort of Christianity.
In fact, at Willow Creek they have kind of been reassessing what they do on this basis. The goal is not to get people to come to church. The goal is not even to make them believers. I really think that’s missing the mark. But that’s kind of been our paradigm. How many decisions have you made? How are your numbers doing? I think those are exactly the wrong questions. The question is: Are you making disciples? People who really get inside of them the radical call to live a beautiful countercultural kingdom. That, I think, is the bull’s eye. And that is much more rare than believers.
To get people convinced of the Gospel, that’s good, you need that. You can’t be in the Kingdom without that. But the attractional model tends to leave them there. If I’ve learned anything in my years here at Woodland Hills Church is that you can be downloading great information to people, but it doesn’t mean that they do anything with it.
For that to happen, they’ve got to be in a community where they learn by practicing it. I’m not saying God is not there. God uses it, and we still see good things coming of it, but something else has to happen for them to really start changing their lifestyles and asking questions like, “Is this where we’re supposed to be living?” “Is this how we’re supposed to be living?” “Is the money going to the right areas?” “How much Jesus Kingdom is there in us?” “And how much American kingdom is there in us?” Information doesn’t necessarily confront our American idolatry and stuff.
And so that’s why we’re putting all of our eggs in the basket of small groups as Kingdom units. And that is the church. The church is the Kingdom unit of small groups who are living in a missional mindset to their neighbors. And we get together, and we still celebrate and proclaim the truth and the Kingdom once a week as a big event. We don’t call that church anymore; that’s just an event. Come to the event, if it feeds you. But church is what you do from Sunday to Sunday out in your neighborhood, with your small group, with your tribe of people."

Thanks to Scott Sidusky for allowing me to steal from his blog.

That attractional model is dying as our culture changes. It's interesting that a mega-church pastor is making this observation. My own personal thought is that the megachurch is the last gasp of Christendom in our society; the perfect storm of consumeristic Christianity and the marginalization of the church. One stat that supports my theory is that while the number of megachurches has doubled in the past 10 years, the number of people attending church has dropped significantly.

The attractional model seems to still work well in certain cultural pockets, like the Bible belt. Megachurches are very effective at reaching the dechurched and unchurched/ nominal Christian. But I don't think the attractional model will work to reach people who have grown up in a post-Christian culture. No cool sermon series or slick mailer could've brought to TFC the friends from Bonita Flats. The bible study I'm going to be doing with my friend is because we followed Jesus' statement in John "as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you" and went to their turf.

Based on some stats, my own anecdotal observation and the observations of some others who sense the same things, this is what it means for my leadership and TFC:

1) I have to make a change in who I look to for mentoring/ learning. I was trained in the attractional model and it's been difficult to transition out of that, since it's all I've ever known. I just finished Intuitive Leadership and realized I need to continue reading along those lines. I have to change what blogs I read and who I look to as examples. That's why it's been so great to have conversation with Shane Ash, because he's way ahead of me in understanding this shift. If I continue to listen to and read pastors who are succesful through the attractional model, I'll continue to miss what God is calling this church to do and I'll also keep comparing myself to a false standard, thus growing my sense of being a failure. Which leads to the second point...

2) I have to let go of my pride. Within the church subculture, "winning" is determined by worship attendance. Since I've always been considered a "winner" in just about everything I've done in life, it's been hard to be on the outside of what church culture determines a successful pastor. Maybe I lack the talent and/or ability to grow a church in an attractional model, or maybe God has designed my personality and skill set so I'be be able to reach the type of people we're reaching; those who couldn't be reached through an attractional approach. Can I stop thinking of myself as a "failure" based upon the mainstream church culture and instead realize that God has shaped me to be the right type of leader for our community and mission? This isn't an excuse for letting people slip through the cracks of discipleship but it does require a humility and patience in allowing God to do through TFC what He's already determined to do, even if that means Donnie isn't celebrated as a "success" within church subculture. I guess I'll have to "settle" for leading to Jesus the people missed by other models of church leadership.

Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Our missionaries

A part of our Growing Up Campaign for 2009 is supporting the missionary family of Scott and Emily Armstrong. It's cool that we get to support the Armstrongs, since my wife and Chris Billings grew up in Central Nazarene's youthgroup with Scott. Scott and Emily are amazing people and it's a privelege to be a small part of their mission work.

To read more about their projects, check out this link and this link and this link.

You can also watch this video.

Monday, February 23, 2009

As I blogged on before, I set a goal fasting one day a week throughout 2009. I hate fasting, but I need what this discipline teaches me. Today was one of the hardest days so far, with all the wonderful food people have brought us and the meeting I had at Austins.

One of the many things fasting teaches us is what we depend upon. Fasting exposes those things in our life we turn to for self-medication. Fasting also makes us more attentive to the voice of God. Both of those realities came to mind while watching my 4 day old son try to soothe himself while waiting for mom to prepare a syringe full of milk.

When Dawson gets hungry (every couple of hours) he'll latch onto anything that comes near his mouth, hoping it will satisfy him. This morning, he was trying to suck on the corner of his sleeve. It was quite funny but also a little sad. He was crying pretty loudly and desperately wanting some food but he was pursuing something that could never give him what he wants. But he couldn't stop, because his rooting reflex prompts him to do exactly what he was doing; latch onto whatever approaches his mouth. Of course, as parents we have the responsibility of making sure his mouth is connected to that which will nourish him.

Dawson sucking on his sleeve is exactly what we do all the time. In fact, our society has conditioned us to pursue things that promise satisfaction but never deliver.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus declared "I AM the bread of life" and "I AM living water." Those who drink and eat from Jesus find true satisfaction.

Are you settling for something false or finding true fulfillment from Jesus?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

For your viewing pleasure...

some more photo albums of baby Dawson.

Erin's facebook account

My facebook account - album 1

Album 2

Saturday, February 21, 2009

His heart grew three sizes that day

Sometime on Friday morning, I realized the line "his heart grew three sizes that day" from Dr. Suess' The Grinch that Stole Christmas was true in my life. Unlike the Grinch, my heart didn't need to grow because is was way too small or unnaturally cold (I'd like to think) but because if it didn't grow, it would burst. If the unexplainable amount of love that was rapidly pouring into my heart wasn't going to leave anytime soon, my heart needed to stretch to make room. Good thing I jog so much.

I've never experienced anything like the jolt of adrenaline I felt when we burst out of the waiting room and I caught my first glimpse of him. Or the the sense of coming home as I held him for the first time in the nursery. Or the wave of emotion that rushed over me as we were finally alone in our room and I read aloud Ephesians 1. Or the heartwrenching pain as Dawon's birth mom told him goodbye at the hospital, which I can barely write about.

My heart had to grow to make room for this miraculous gift of God. Our hearts had to grow in order to contain the love we'll always have for the young mother, grand-mother and extended family who bestowed upon us this priceless gift.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for the rest of our lives.

For more pictures, follow this link.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Kingdom is here among us

There is a reason TFC is the way it is. There's a reason we don't tell people who to vote for. There's a reason we partner with gentlemen's clubs to serve the poor in our area. There's a reason I personally refuse to support the organization trying to pass laws to shut down strip clubs. There's a reason I get to have lunch with a bouncer at one of the gentlemen's clubs. There's a reason people who have never been in church feel welcome at TFC. It's because TFC tries to live out the Kingdom.

Much of my thinking has been influenced by Greg Boyd. Just this morning, I heard a message that I think every Christ-follower should hear. Follow this link, scroll down to the sermon dated 2/9 and click on the audio. The entire sermon is great, but if you can't listen to it all, start at the 9:52 mark and go to the 24:20 mark.

Jesus = the Kingdom. Our job is to bring Jesus to people.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We're ready...

We finished the baby's room last night. Following the theme of how God spoke to us about adopting this boy, Erin's decorated his room in Dr. Suess characters. I didn't think we'd be able to finish his room before we went to the hospital but we've had a lot of friends helping us out. Thank you!
Right now, life is good for our little boy. He's safe, warm, well fed, not a care in the world. In just a few hours, he's going to be violently pushed through an opening so small it will turn his well-rounded head into a cone-shape. When he's crying about it might be the first time I use a line I'll use a lot during his life, "sometimes life just sucks." Poor little dude, he has no idea what he's about to go through...
Erin and I are going into the hospital late this evening. Our little boy should be born sometime Thursday morning. We'll officially sign the papers sometime on Friday. This is going to be a beautiful and painful experience, all wrapped into one. Pray for us, our baby, our birthmom and her family.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Somewhere out there

A move of God

I poured my heart out on Sunday, just before the offering. Telling people that when they make the lifestyle changes necessary to give sacrificially, they're making a huge impact in people's lives. All that I shared came out of a realization I had while brushing my teeth before worship that morning. I realized that I've never been a part of a movement of God like I'm experiencing right now. What's happening is bigger than can be explained in a simple blog post, but in posting a few of the conversations I've had will give a sense of what's been happening.

"I've know nothing about God, never been to church but I'm feeling irresistibly drawn to your church. I love listening and learning and I feel so welcomed. I can't imagine feeling as welcome in other churches as I do in yours."

"If it weren't for TFC, I don't know where I'd be. Who knows where my wife and I would be."

"Dammit [I have to miss church again on Sunday]!"

"Nobody has ever loved us the way you love us."

Creating an environment in which these types of conversations can occur has taken a TON of work; prayer, relationship building and leadership. We have to constantly say no to some more traditional approaches to church so as to create the space for this type of stuff to happen.

In a meeting with worship leaders last night, we were all in agreement that God's about to do something in our church that we've never seen before. We've been preparing ourselves for God to move and we're seeing the beginning of some miracles. Patience, obedience, diligence - that will keep us aligned with this movement of God.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thank You

Tonight was an amazing, amazing evening. We got a call from Bonita Flats earlier this week, wanting us to come over so they could give us the "gift bag for your baby." Since they'd been so generous at Christmas, I figured this might be a pretty good haul but I was still completely blow away. Between the stuff they bought off our registry, the cash and the gift card, we were given hundreds of dollars worth of stuff! Erin was crying, some of the bartenders were crying, it was a beautiful moment. Guido, the owner said, "no one's ever loved us the way you love us." Guido was also talking about the ways the club has been helping My Father's House since the day we served there last month.

We started Love Wins to share Jesus' love. I had no idea however, how much love we'd be given in return. Had I thought about it though, I shouldn't have been surprised because in the Kingdom of God, Love Wins!!!

A Safe Place

Although I can't share all the details, just to respect people's privacy, I want to share about a few conversations I've had over the past couple of weeks.

One was two weeks ago at a bible study I'm leading. The dynamics of that group are really interesting but among those who are a part of the group, we have some people who would tell you they aren't yet followers of Jesus, though they're thinking about it. There are also some people who are just coming back to church after being away for years as a result of some painful experiences. The discussion that night eventually turned to the idea of how TFC is such a "safe place." As each person told their story of connecting with church at TFC, the theme of "safe place" kept coming up in their story. I almost cried listening to their stories. It was so incredible.

And today I had lunch with a guy who is becoming a good friend and is a bouncer at one of the clubs we serve through our Love Wins ministry (see label below). This friend has no church background, admits to knowing little or nothing about God and the bible but is finding himself irresistibly drawn to our church. He said he loves coming and listening to me talk about this whole Christianity thing. To be honest, I can't remember all the details of our conversation but I do remember almost being in awe as he told me why he feels so welcome at TFC. One main thing is that we accept him for who he is, that "I don't have to be perfect to feel accepted at your church."

His coworkers have kept waiting for us to become "crazy, just like all the other Christians" or to start preaching at them, but since it's never happened, they've come to accept us as legit. That we really are the people we seem to be. And now that he's been to TFC a few times, his coworkers have been asking about the church. He told me not to be surprised if some coworkers show up at TFC sometime soon!

Creating an atmosphere like what we have at TFC has taken a TON of intentionality and we've still got work to do, but conversations like those are so affirming.

I have found however, that TFC is NOT a safe place for everyone. We are NOT a safe place for people who have rigid views on what makes a church a church, the grace of God or the essentials of living for Jesus. I've taken some major heat from well-meaning but misguided Christians who think I'm leading the wrong way. But I know that were I to follow their advice, TFC would no longer be the "safe place" that we're working to make it.

I guess every church leader or church planter needs to ask who they're willing to exclude in setting the values of their church; those who insist on conforming to good but extra-biblical standards or those who don't feel welcome in a lot of other churches. The latter will result in a growing faith among Christians who share that vision as well as a growing faith in the lives of future Christ-followers.

Monday, February 9, 2009

We're legal

Our social worker just emailed me our completed Home Study, so we're now legally able to adopt in the state of Kansas. If the baby had come before this was finished, as almost happened, the judge could've granted us temporary custody. But now we don't have to worry about that.

I immediately sent the Home Study over to Hand in Hand Adoption, the place to which we're applying for an adoption grant.

As I mentioned before, we had a ton of paperwork to fill out. The Home Study is a somewhat streamlined version of what we sent to our social worker, though it's still 9 pages.

Here's the final section of the Home Study. Gotta say, it's a nice feeling to read our "official approval."

I find the Miller home extremely able to provide for a child spiritually, emotionally, financially, physically, socially, and intellectually. They are a loving, stable couple who will be able to nurture and meet the needs of a child placed in their home. Both their marriage and finances appear stable at this time, and they have a good understanding of adoption issues. Their extended family is supportive of their plan to adopt and they are well equipped emotionally and financially to handle any special issues which may arise with an adopted child. I feel a child placed in this home will be well cared for and loved.

I highly recommend Donald and Erin Miller receive temporary custody with the plan of becoming adoptive parents to the child placed in their care as soon as possible.

Respectfully submitted,
Phyllis L. Gilmore, M.S.W.
Licensed Specialist in
Clinical Social Work

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A beautiful musical in a beautiful language

In the summer of 2006, Erin and I toured France. During that trip, I fell in love with French culture, countryside and language. I love the architecture and art of Paris, the beautiful countryside of Normandy, the history of Provence and the sound of my lovely wife speaking French. Thanks to the one semester I took of French at MNU, Je parle francais un peu maintenant (I now speak a little French).

To stay connected to the lovely city of Paris, I follow the blog Paris Daily Photo.

From that blog, I found this clip of my favorite musical performed in a language I admire, but don't know as well as I'd like.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The embodiement of truth

I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through Tim Keel's book, Intuitive Leadership. It's a very challenging book, especially following up the things I learned during my study leave. The quote I'm going to share fits within the larger themes of the book but it by no means summarizes the book. It does however, illustrate an incredible experience Erin and I have been having the past couple of months.

"To be missiological in a post-Christendom world is not to be more committed to programs of mission but to hold resolutely to an ecclesiology that is incomprehensible apart from mission. [Stanley] Hauerwas elaborates: 'the work of Jesus was not a new set of ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing society, but the establishment of a new community, a people that embodied forgiveness, sharing and self-sacrificing love in its rituals and discipline. In that sense, the visible church... was not the bearer of Christ's message; it was itself to be the message.' In this context, we do not seek to 'reach' a 'target' group or demographic with a message. We live incarnationally in order to demonstrate the new reality that is being revealed in Jesus Christ and embodied by his people, the church.
The gospel is not a location to be defended. It is an alternate reality based on the person of Jesus Christ, who has called around himself a new community to live his life out in the world in hope, courage and joy.
How can this strange story of God made man, of a crucified Savior, of resurrection and new creation become credible for those whose entire mental training has conditioned them to believe that the real world is the world that can be satisfactory explained and managed without the hypothesis of God? I know of only one clue to the answering of that question, only one real hermeneutic of the gospel: congregations that really believe it. "

At the risk of dumbing up the above thoughts, I want to add some commentary from my own life. I'll share a little bit (won't share too many details for the sake of privacy) about a conversation Erin and I have been having with someone who has become a very good friend over the past several months. On various occasions, this friend has told us that while they believe in God, they aren't sure what to think about Jesus or faith while at the same time adding, "I have faith in your faith." Our friend can tell that we're authentic in our faith, which has lead to our friend having a faith in us. Our friend has told us that while they're not yet sure about following Jesus yet, they see the beauty in our relationship with Jesus and simply wants to follow us for awhile, as we follow Jesus. That is both amazingly affirming and insanely terrifying at the same time! This friend is actively pursuing whether a life of following Jesus is a life worth commiting too. You can pray for our friend as they're on this journey of exploration. In fact, please do!

That story illustrates the change that Tim Keel is describing. No longer do we lead people to Jesus through overpowering arguments or limber intellectual apologetics. We lead people to Truth (Jesus Christ) by embodying the beauty of that Truth. Helping people know the life-transforming Truth isn't about equipping ourselves with machine-gun intellectual arguments that poke holes in their truth structure. Rather, it's about engaging people in deep, authentic, lived-out relationships in which Truth is given a tangible body.

You don't have to be perfect (I'm a prime example). You simply have to be comitted to cultivating a deep relationship with Jesus and a deep relationship with other people.

Stupid Tax

I take very seriously Paul's instructions to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3 regarding the qualifications of leadership. Verses 12-13 could summarize the chapter, "A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus." Men and women who make leadership decisions at TFC are people who live out the expectations of 1 Timothy 3.

Of course, a huge part of this is finances. A person's finances is an extremely important (though certainly not exhaustive) indicator of a person's spiritual maturity. So, I've always tried to model healthy financial habits before my congregation. At a conference last year, I heard Darrin Patrick, founding pastor of Journey Church in St. Louis, say that planting a church is like photocopying yourself and passing out the copies. That the church and people will eventually take on your strengths and weaknesses. A year later, that still terrifies me. I'd have to say that it's true, though, both positively and negatively. Our Point Team is currently trying to restructure some things, to help manage my weaknesses and let me spend more time on my strengths.

But one way that's evident is in our church's finances. Yes, we've taken a major dip in the giving the past several months and we're looking like we'll end the year in the red. We do however, have an emergency fund to sustain us for awhile and we have NO debt. I'd like to think that the fact that Erin and I have an emergency fund and a small school loan as our only non-house debt has resulted in the church following our example. I've even had the privelege of doing some one-on-one work with some families; helping them create a spending plan using the spreadsheet Erin and I developed and helping them attack debt and increase giving. I acknkowledge the huge responsibility of modeling healthy behaviors for my congregation, though it makes me wet my pants in fear.

A couple weeks ago however, the therapist I was talking with during my study leave told me that people admire strengths from a distance but are attracted to and find healing in weakness. So, let me share about the Stupid Tax we've paid the past couple of years.

When we bought our house in July of 2004, we did two not-very-smart things with our mortgage; an 80/20 loan (where you take out a home-equity line of credit to finance the downpayment) and a 7/1 ARM (the mortgage rate readjusts after 7 years). We had no idea the 20% was a bad idea and because the future of TFC seemed so unpredictable (we had only 1 family in our church besides us), 7 years felt like a lifetime away. But we finally woke up to the fact that it would eventually arrive.

We worked hard at paying off the 20% and between the money we paid on the HELOC and the slight increase in equity, we were able to refinace with a regular 20% down mortgage. But I spent a few years kicking myself when I realized we could've had an awesome rate on a 30 year mortgage had we not gone with the ARM. Last December we refinanced our house to get out of the ARM and that's when our Stupid Tax rate went through the roof!

I don't know why, but I thought it would be worth saving about $85 a month on our mortgage payment by doing a 30 year loan rather than a 20. So added the extra 10 years and in the process settled for a higher interest rate. 14 months later, we've paid thousands of dollars in interest payments and only about $1,000 on principle, since interst in front-loaded. OUCH!

But after mourning that lost money, we're going to refinance into a 20 or 15 year mortgage. We could get a 5.35% rate on a 20 year mortgage (raising our payment by about $80/month) or 4.85% on a 15 year rate (raising our monthly payment by about $180/month). The extra $100 or $200 a month we need to find will be worth the tens of thousands we're saving at the back-end of our loan. Yes, we could discipline ourselves to pay off our house early, but I'm not sure we'd have the discipline to do that. The lower interest rate of the shorter loan will also mean we're throwing away less money on interest payments.

We're going to bite the bullet, realize we wasted a year of payments and set ourselves up to have a paid-for house between the ages of 45 and 50. Our 30th year wasn't too smart financially but it wasn't fatal, either. The Stupid Tax has already been paid, nothing we can do but move ahead into a better future.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

25 interesting things

So there's this new fade on Facebook. People write 25 interesting things about themselves and then tag others in their note. I've been tagged in a lot of them and they're usually an interesting read. One time, I read something and wondered whether that person meant to tag me, considering what they'd said in one of their points. Is that vague enough?

I've recently read two that about made me cry. This first comment is from one of my best friends growing up, whom I had the privilege of leading to Christ when we were sophomores in High School. 4 years ago, I got a note from him thanking me for giving him "the greatest gift of all." I think the note was prompted during a worship gathering, which is a good idea.
Anyway, here's one of his notes from his "25 random."

18. Mission work is also something that the Lord is stirring in me. Never attempted it to date, but would like to venture down that path someday. Our church has a strong mission field presence & sends teams out both within the US and internationally.

It's such an honor to know I had a part in where he's currently at in his journey with Christ.

The second note I want to share comes from our birth mother, who may be induced soon:
5. Yes, I am expecting. I'm one month away. Although in the beginning I thought God was punishing me, I now know that He has really blessed me with a very special gift: to make another family very happy. It's humbling to know that I am gonna be a part of a couple's dramatic life change and that I can give them something that they may not have had. I'm very proud of my decision and nothing could alter it.

I'm pretty sure the change from shame to thankfulness has come from some of our conversations. When we told her how thankful we were for her "momentary lapse," she began to view this baby in a new light.

God often transforms our biggest screw-ups into the greatest blessings.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Some more interesting thoughts from another church planter

I've gotta say, it's good to know that other church planters or pastors serious about doing church in a non-traditional way so as to connect with people far from God have observed some of the same things I've observed over the years. Check out these posts and let me know your thoughts.

Can't Win for Losing

Birds of a Feather

Monday, February 2, 2009


It's been incredible to watch Kurt Warner during this season's playoffs. Everyone knows his "stacking boxes at Hy-Vee to Super Bowl MVP" story. But I'm in awe of Kurt Warner for coming back the 2nd time.
In the 2002 Super Bowl, a little known QB named Tom Brady and his huge underdog Patriots upset Warner's "Greatest Show on Turf". Things went downhill from there for Warner. He kept getting hurt, he lost his starting job to Mark Bolger and well, his wife didn't handle it so well, which made him the laughing stock of the Sports Radio market.

But Warner didn't quit. He didn't doubt himself and he didn't give up on his vision. It really didn't matter what those on the outside were saying, he trusted those closest to him who were confident in both his character and his ability.

When Fitzgerald broke away for the g0-ahead TD, I told my cousin "there's two future hall-of-famers." While it's a bummer Warner's defense let him down, I think he punched his ticket to Canton with that 4th quarter TD pass.

To go from rags to riches is one thing. To do it twice (well, 2:15 from doing it twice) is incredible.

What does resiliency for the Kingdom of God look like for you? Are you willing to stick with it?

I know I am!

Our paperwork is finished!

I stepped back inside from a short trip to the mailbox. I mailed our application for a matching grant for adoption expenses from Hand in Hand Christian Adoption. Hand in Hand was started by some people from another church in Gardner, New Life Community Church. The chairperson is the pastor's wife from New Life and of the board members is a good friend we got to know through The Music Man.

There was SO MUCH paperwork to fill out for this adoption. The home study to get approved by the state of Kansas was the most work, that took us about a month. While we've turned in all the info, we're still waiting for that to get process. It should just be a formality however, but we still need the home study done before Hand in Hand can consider our grant request.

With most of the legal work done, we're starting to turn our attention to preparing for an actual baby. I put together our stroller on Saturday night, I think NASA designed that thing. As I write this, my father-in-law is putting on the 2nd coat of paint for the baby's room.

Just to give an idea of the process of becoming adoptive parents, think about how much work it took to get ready for your first child, then cut that time by 1/3 and then add hours and hours of talks with a social worker, adoption lawyer, the adoption agency and the birth mom and her family. Then add hours of legal paperwork to work through. And then there's all the insurance paperwork to prepare for an adoption. Basically, it's all the work of physically preparing for your first baby, to which is added the emotional, relational and legal work of prepping for the adoption and all done in 3 months.

Yeah, it's a lot of work but man am I PUMPED!!!! Bring on my baby boy!